the susie/sally theory

“What Susie says of Sally says more of Susie than of Sally.” We’ve all heard it, but has it really hit home?

Sitting inside classroom listening to a distinguished professor lecture you on the history of Buddhist traditions initially may sound like the very last thing you’d want to be doing on a sunny North Carolina summer day. However, since day one, my professor has been provoking each of our minds in a way that gets us thinking about not only our own perspectives but about those of other people.

Quite simply, he told us, “Knowledge is power, and power is knowledge. Knowledge is therefore your ability to define the quality of a relationship with another person. Power is what you do with it.”

He then followed up with the assertion that we are nothing more than what we think other people think we should be. With this in mind, knowledge and power then assimilate into play. This is because everything around us is socially constructed by our cultures, as well as for other cultures around the world.

For example, as a twenty-year-old female college student that attends a prestigious university also renowned for having a very fashionable, put-together, model-like student body, I know I would feel a little out of place if I showed up to class in gym clothes, sans makeup, with unkempt hair. That is, in an essence, me taking into account what I believe people think I should be doing– how they’re going to define the quality of any relationship with me based on whether or not I look approachable or like a reclusive hobo– and putting it into practice.

Is that my fault? Is that their fault? No, and no. It is because that is, in fact, what our society in post-modern America perceives as a socially-acceptable beauty regiment for college girls who want to be accepted without reservations.

So where do Susie and Sally come into play? Language.

Language is another social construct. We constantly reify and police ourselves and each other on what is or isn’t acceptable for us to say. We physically police the words that are on the threshold of slipping off of our tongues as well as mentally, whenever we judge others.

Thus, anything I say about someone else speaks volumes about the type of person I am as well as how I measure relationships, rather than revealing any element of truth about that ambiguous someone.

If Sally always runs to Susie with the latest news, and Susie tells you, “Oh, don’t trust Sally, she’s a compulsive gossiper,” that tells you that Susie values honesty to a point where she feels the need to tell you to watch what you say around Sally, rather than whether or not Sally is either an extroverted, in-the-know kind of gal or a drama queen.

Any judgment that pops into our minds is another vital participant. We say to ourselves, “Oh, look at that guy, vigorously scribbling away notes like an idiot even after Professor Jones said not to take notes during the lecture,” or “What is that god-awful smell coming from her lunch box…wait…is that even a girl?” These thoughts say nothing about the “other” we’ve created, but rather about ourselves and what we place value upon.

We as humans have the innate tendency to immediately generate an us-versus-them kind of mindset, in which you’re either in or you’re out.

My professor told us that in order for us to truly understand we must make the foreign familiar, as well as the familiar foreign. That is, put ourselves in another person’s shoes. To one person, their intentions could be purely honorable, but another person is very likely to see that differently. Instead of being so quick to judge, however, what we need to do is listen.


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